Are Crossbows Legal in California? Hunting Regulations

are crossbows legal in california
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You may be surprised to learn that in some places of the world, crossbows aren’t subject to any specific regulations.

While in other places, they're treated as a firearm, despite there being no combustion involved in propelling the projectile.

For instance, in the US, it's even more complicated as each state has its own set of laws on the subject.

Still, crossbow owners need to be particularly vigilant in knowing the different laws concerning crossbows, especially while traveling with one.

Are crossbows legal in California? This is one of the questions we answer, plus solid crossbow advice so that you have all the info you need for your next hunting trip.

Do you need a license to own a crossbow in the US?

If you’re 18+ old, you can buy and own a crossbow. But most states only allow ownership with a special license. The transportation of crossbows is highly controlled to prevent unauthorized use of imported crossbows.

So in short, in most states – yes!

are crossbows considered a firearm

Are Crossbows Legal for Self Defense?

In a daring and life-threatening situation, you only have a few moments to take action. On the other hand, there are some valid questions to keep in mind when defending yourself. If it ever happens that you do end up in court over a defensive action, you will need the answer to all of these.

Who did you shoot using a crossbow?

If you've shot someone with a crossbow, they must be an assailant.  The law says that you can't fire a weapon at somebody you “thought” may want to attack you.

What provoked or encouraged you to shoot?

You have to be quite clear about your reasons, circumstances, and compulsion. If you had pepper spray or even a stun gun, but you decided to shoot an unarmed attacker, then you may land in a great deal of trouble. 

When did you decide to use the crossbow?

The most critical part when defending yourself is who attacked first. We all want to be prepared in the event of an attack, but then again you can't rightfully "protect" yourself against anybody. Distrust is not an attack and you can't shoot someone based on a gut feeling or a 6th- sense.

Where did you use the crossbow?

Firstly, you need to be in a place where crossbows are allowed because you don't want to be in trouble for breaking the law. Then, always have a valid license with you. 

Where did you aim the crossbow?

Aiming at a person’s heart, or their head is indisputably an effort to slay them. For the time being, aiming at the legs and feet should slow them down or stop them without having to go for the kill first-time around.

There's an exception, though. If they were aiming a weapon at you, you'd have reasonable grounds to aim for a fatal shot. 

Why did you fire a crossbow at the attacker?

Did you have a different means of defense, or was it possible that you could have prevented the attack? Although your first responsibility is to preserve your life, self-defense is restricted. Do what you can to escape the danger instead of provoking fatal confrontation. 

Does a crossbow count as a firearm?

Crossbows release arrows automatically without burning gas. So, a crossbow is not a firearm

are crossbows legally allowed in california

Are Crossbows Legal in California?

Owning a crossbow in California is legal. You must also know that they don’t recognize crossbows as archery equipment when it comes to hunting. Instead, crossbows are treated as firearms. 

Hunting With a Crossbow: Timing

One of the most popular reasons for owning a crossbow is for hunting. In California, it is legal to hunt with a crossbow during the firearm season only.

Legal During Firearm Season

Some states hunting regulations are tighter than California while others are not. For example, some states only allow disabled people to use a crossbow when hunting. You may also find that some states,  restriction apply to crossbow deer hunting and big game season only.

California sits in the middle of these by allowing crossbow hunting during all gun seasons. Still, exceptions are made for disabled people who are allowed to use crossbows for hunting during archery season.

Legal During Archery Season for Disabled Persons ONLY

You may be entitled to a disability waiver if you have a disease or disability that prevents you from manually drawing and holding a regular bow. You can apply for a waiver at the California Fish and Game Commission.

They'll need the following from you:

  • Personal details (full name, address, DOB, driver’s license number, and signature)
  • Disability information (description of your disease, disability, or illness)
  • Physician’s information (full name, address, license number, and signature)

Crossbow Restrictions

Although owning a crossbow is legal, carrying and discharging it is restricted like any other weapon. You must have a minimum 125lbs draw weight, min draw length of 14 inches, and a minimum 18inch stock. The arrows need to be at least 16 inches and have a broadhead. 

Carrying a Crossbow

It's legal to openly carry a crossbow in most places, as long as it’s not loaded and cocked. Places where crossbows (and any and all weapons, for that matter) are strictly prohibited include colleges and universities.

Anyplace that's illegal to carry a firearm is also off-limits to carrying a crossbow.

Places that's off-limits to crossbows are:

  • State parks
  • Public buildings
  • Hospitals.
  • While picketing

Keep in mind that you can't transport a crossbow that has an arrow seated in the flight rail.  This means that all motorized vehicles, like cars, boats, etc. are all off-limits too.

are crossbows legal in california

Using and Discharging a Crossbow

Firstly, you need to make sure that your crossbow is legal. In California, crossbows are required to have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds. Crossbows that are too weak to propel an arrow forward (horizontally) less than 130 yards are also prohibited but flu-flu arrows are exempted. 

Secondly, as with any firearm, you need to be aware of your surroundings when shooting your weapon. It's against the law to hunt with or discharge a crossbow within 150 yards of any occupied building. If you do, you must have the owners permission. 

You also can't intentionally shoot a crossbow across a public road or path recklessly.

Crossbow Ammo

Also, there are restrictions on the type of arrows or bolts you use when hunting, depending on your prey.

Big Game

When hunting big game, ensure arrows and bolts using broadheads are at least 7/8th inches wide. If the broadheads are not fixed-width, they will be measured in their extended or open positions.

Small Game and Birds

When hunting small game and birds (except pheasant), any bolt or arrow may be used, excluding those with explosive or tranquilizing arrowheads.

Pheasant and Migratory Birds

When hunting pheasant and migratory birds, you must use flu-flu fletching arrows or bolts specifically designed to travel shorter distances.

Hunter Orange Requirement

The law doesn't explicitly tell you to wear hunter or blaze orange when hunting with a crossbow in California. Although the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) strongly recommends that you do. It needs to be visible from all sides when hunting any kind of big game or upland bird.

California Archery Laws

Although crossbows are treated as firearms when it comes to hunting, archery laws still apply to their general ownership and use. If you’re looking to buy a crossbow or travel to California with one in your possession, then you need to brush up on California archery laws, too. 

Most of the laws are common-sense laws and apply to most weapons in most states. We’re talking about the laws that prohibit bowhunting while intoxicated, for example.

  • Bowhunting (like any hunting) while intoxicated is just bad news for you and everyone unfortunate enough to be around you. Yet, there are other laws that are a little less obvious, which is why it’s important to study them to become a responsible crossbow owner.
  • For example, did you know that it is illegal to possess a bow in a game refuge? Or that if you’re bowhunting (legally) during archery season, it’s unlawful to possess a firearm?
  • In California, it is illegal to shoot a bow within 150 yards of a designated camping area.
  • It is also illegal to carry a bow within units of the Parks and Recreation Department—unless it’s stored in a vehicle in such a way that prevents easy access.
  • Traveling to California will include many more local regulations on the type of game or fish you’re allowed to hunt.
  • It’s illegal for civil addict parolees to be in possession of any type of bow.

California Penal Code 25640 has many confused on this language as a valid work-around for California's Concealed Carry (CCW) laws. This video explains in-depth about Penal Code 25460 correlates to Hunting and Fishing. 

Can Felons own Crossbows in California?

You can legally use a crossbow to hunt in most areas with the state and local game laws. You can own a crossbow if you live in a rural area and use it far from dwellings and roads. There was a time when felons convicted of non-violent crimes had firearm ownership rights reinstated after being released from prison. However, that changed with the 1968 Gun Control Act.

This act included the following provisions:

  • It banned mail-order long gun sales.
  • It made it essential for all guns to be marked with a serial number.
  • It is mandatory for gun purchasers to be at least 18 years of age.
  • It prohibited convicted felons from being in possession of any firearms.

Seeing as a crossbow is not considered a firearm, felons are not restricted by federal law from owning one.


Now you know that all bows are legal in California; moving forward, you just need to remember the difference in laws concerning crossbows against other bow types. Yes, it's legal to own a crossbow in California. Still, it's important to remember that they’re treated more like a gun than a piece of archery equipment when it comes to hunting season.

Hunting with a crossbow is only allowed during firearm season, so plan your next hunting trip to California with these dates in mind. Lastly, it goes without saying that you shouldn't hunt without a valid hunting license. 

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